Sask. towns and cities call provincial cuts blatantly unfair

Saskatchewan's towns and cities say they want to sit down and have a serious talk about money with the provincial government.

The 2017 provincial budget, released last month, slashed $36 million in grants-in-lieu payments to 109 towns and cities.

As well, it cut money to other programs like libraries and community rinks. The government is also closing the Saskatchewan Transportation Company (STC) by next month.

Strongly worded response from SUMA

The Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association was blasting the province on the budget measures on Monday.

Mayors said the province is shrinking its deficit by off-loading costs onto municipalities, putting significant strain on budgets.

"Cutting funding in programs and then expecting our hometowns to pay the difference is blatantly unfair,"  said SUMA vice-president of cities Bob Maloney, who is also the mayor of Yorkton.

"It is unsustainable for all of the cities, towns and villages across Saskatchewan."

Smaller communities hurting too, group says

While many news stories have focused on cuts to Saskatchewan cities, towns and villages have also been suffering.

"With the cuts to the rink program, and other downloading issues, library cuts ... we will have to raise our property tax," said SUMA vice-president of towns Rodger Hayward, who is the mayor of Naicam.

"You have to be very careful, because you don't want people to move out of town. It's a very tricky situation."

SUMA is mainly concerned about what it sees as a lack of consultation from the province. Mayors felt blind-sided by the budget, and most municipalities have been forced to re-open their budgets in reaction to the shortfalls.

Premier's remarks called 'affront'

"Calling the premier's remarks at convention, 'consultation' is actually an affront to all SUMA members," said Hayward. "Saying everything is on the table is not consultation."

Association president Gordon Barnhart said he was hopeful the province will sit down with mayors to continue the discussion.

"I'm an optimist," said Barnhart. "I'm very confident that they will be open to consultation. We've been having some informal consultations, and we think that is going to lead towards sitting at the same table."